Ethnographies of energy production in times of transition

Convenors: Noura AlKhalili (Lund University) & Gloria Pessina (Politecnico di Milano)

Contacts: noura.alkhalili@keg.lu.se, gloria.pessina@polimi.it

Emerging disciplines such as the Energy Humanities (Szeman & Boyer 2017) are currently showing the need to overcome strict scientific boundaries in order to grasp the complexity of the current socio-economic and ecological transition at multiple geographical scales. It is in this framework that recent studies on energy ethnography have taken place (Smith & High 2017; Goodman 2018), mostly with the aim of shedding light on the social and material dimension of apparently invisible energy infrastructures. Only few studies adopted an ethnographic approach to research on energy production places (Bougleux 2012), be it traditional workplaces such as thermoelectric (or nuclear) power stations or more recently renewable energy power plants and territories, probably due to the difficulty of accessing the field. Several researches engaged with the ethnography of energy consumption, investigating values, practices and habits of the end-users (Strauss et. al 2013), while others paid more attention to the impacts on everyday life of mineral extraction and energy production, especially in the Global South (Sawyer 2014; Howe & Boyer 2016).

Lately, emerging research is tackling EU’s decarbonisation strategy and mitigation of climate change through investigating transition to renewable energies. Specifically, the Saharan desert of North Africa is perceived as a vast untapped supply of nearby renewable energy. Equally, North African countries are highly interested in energy transitions to renewables for both domestic use and export. There is not much research around large-scale renewable energy production schemes and only a few studies mention issues of land ownership and the presence of communities in these areas (Rignall 2016).

Clearly, more empirical research – and ethnographic – is needed to focus on culture, power, social relations and the people’s lived experiences in and around energy production plants. Ethnography is crucial so to bring to the fore elements such as gender differences and other less visible power relations in the context of study. It also helps to contextualize the ontological positions and subjectivities of people and gives local meaning to the relation to technology, society and environment. Therefore, this call for papers invites either ethnographic or qualitative contributions that deal with themes around energy transition and climate justice, highlighting aspects related to communities around both renewable and traditional energy production plants, issues of land enclosures, manufacturing processes, local participation for just energy production and transfer.

Open Questions

- How is energy produced in times of ecological transition and economic crisis?

- How can energy production work be observed and described by ethnographers?

- What is the role of the human work in traditional and renewable energy production? How does it interact with machine work?

- Which power relations characterize traditional energy production workplaces (e.g. thermoelectric power stations) and renewable energy production territories (e.g. solar power plants)?

- Which forms of local resistance to new energy production plants or to the dismantling of underused traditional plants can be recognized?

- To what extent do energy production workplaces and territories shed light on the current socio-economic conjuncture?

- Which territories are currently emerging in the global energy production geography? Which are declining?

- To what extent are the large-scale renewable energy production schemes bound to be a new form of exploitation?

Keywords

Electric power stations, energy transition, large-scale renewable energy plants, energy justice, workplace ethnographies.

Fields of Study

Energy/environmental humanities, Political ecology, Anthropology of energy, History of energy, Human geography, Sociology of work, Sociology of the territory.

References

Bougleux E., 2012, Soggetti egemoni e saperi subalterni. Etnografia in una multinazionale del settore dell’energia, Firenze: Nardini.

Goodman J., 2018, “Researching climate crisis and energy transition: Some issues for ethnography”, Energy Research & Social Science, 45: 340-347.

Howe C., Boyer D., 2016, “Aeolian extractivism and community win in Southern Mexico”, Public Culture, 28 (2(79)): 215-235.

Huber M., 2015, “Energy and social power. From political ecology to the ecology of politics”. In: Perreault T., Bridge G., Mac Carthy J. (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Political Ecology, Oxon: Routledge.

Rignall, K., 2016, “Solar Power, State Power, and the Politics of Energy Transition in Pre-Saharan
Morocco”, Environment and Planning A, 48(3):540–557.

Sawyer S., 2014, Crude Chronicles. Indigenous Politics, Multinational Oil, and Neoliberalism in Ecuador, Durham: Duke University Press.

Smith J., High M.M., 2017, “Exploring the anthropology of energy: Ethnography, energy and ethics”, Energy Research & Social Science, 30: 1-6.

Strauss S., Rupp S., Love T., 2013, Cultures of Energy: Power, Practices, Technologies, London: Routledge.

Szeman I., Boyer D., 2017, Energy Humanities: An Anthology, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

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